Cultural maps have something in common with mind mapping. A cultural map refers to a technique to “map” cultural traits, aspects or characteristics of the community, people or local environment. Mapping involves:
- collecting data,
- analysing and synthesizing information,
- concluding in a set of findings supporting further activities.
Why is this a useful technique?
As a result of cultural mapping, you will be more aware about the cultures around you, observing different behaviours and identifying strengths. With this information you can contribute to planning new initiatives, linking ideas or groups to introduce change, as well as targeting common values that cultures share. Moreover, cultural mapping develops creativity and a sense of initiative.
Since mapping is usually the first step to preparing a plan, in the context of a multicultural work environment, planning can become even more essential with different understandings demonstrated by employees resulting from non-identical interpretation of a concept.
Cultural mapping also identifies gaps:
- in terms of resources to introduce or solve a problem – cultures approach them in different ways,
- in terms of workload – cultures have different levels of responsiveness or simply act according to different standards,
- in terms of needs – cultures are accustomed to different things,
- in terms of communication – cultures communicate with each other in ways that are not always transparent, and
- in terms of perspective – circumstances alter cases!
Cultural mapping is an individual activity as well as a group activity. It is recommended to share your ideas (=cultural map) with a group to connect ideas and together contribute to innovative solutions taking into account the needs, wants and expectations of different cultures around you.
A cultural map can take various forms, not necessarily a text-based map which mind maps are usually characterized by, but also web-based map available on a dedicated webpage (similar to a database) or a digital map created through a digital solution (online or offline).
Canva (https://www.canva.com/) is an example of a digital tool you can use to create a cultural map. It has ready-made mind map templates to choose from that you can adapt for the purpose of cultural mapping.
Example of a text-based map
Example of a mind map on Canva
Regardless of the form, it is essential you identify your target population (=group or community) and the aspects (=behaviours, language, etc.) that are the focus of your analysis.
Depending on the complexity and aim of your cultural research, you should decide on the activities. These may include:
- determining objectives of the cultural mapping (=individually, in a group, with the community),
- identifying the resources, you will use in the process of mind mapping (=human, technical, financial),
- designing a template for visualizing the cultural map (=paper or digital form),
- collecting information for the purpose of mind mapping (=desk research, field research),
- analysing information on the cultural map (=interpretation, synthesis), and
- finalizing the cultural map (=follow-up taking the form of communication with the target audience, introduction of innovative solutions).
However, in some cases even a budget plan or interviewing locals could be useful to meet the objectives of the activity.
Therefore, culture mapping allows you to see the unseen. It is often associated with migration and the expansion of culture to make it more democratic. The outcomes of culture mapping contribute to active participation and a more inclusive society, but also a more inclusive workplace. It may seem easier to “map cultures” in a SME than in a big enterprise, while it both cases it relies on the skills, motivation and creativeness of the employees to engage in the process delivering meaningful results. This also relates the activity to open innovation practices, since knowledge exchange between employees leading to development of an individual, group, product, service or company is the most basic form of it. With different perspectives from different cultures, you are expanding horizons impacting the performance of your business.
Culture mapping is only one technique of sharing knowledge and ideas internally within an organisation. You can find more information about this in Module 3.